Ethnic Oromo Irreecha religious festival celebrated in Addis Ababa

Irreecha, ethnic Oromo religious festival, is celebrated in Addis Ababa -a city overy which radical Oromo ethnic nationalists claim ownership right

Irreecha _ Oromo _ religious festival
Irreecha celebration in Addis Ababa. Photo – FBC

October 5, 2019

Ethiopia has more than 80 language speaking groups and ethnic Oromo is believed to have the largest number.  On Saturday, they celebrated their traditional religious festival, Irrecha, at Meskel Square in the capital Addis Ababa. 

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Oromos from different parts of the Oromo region of Ethiopia showed up at the Meskel square for the celebration. Security in the city was tight, according to citizens’ reports from the city. 

Traditionally, the festival is celebrated in Lake Hora in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit) which about 44 kilometers southeast of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. 

Irreecha, according to ethnic Oromo traditional religion which is known as waaqeffannaa, is a festival of thanksgiving to Waaqa-which they believe is a monotheistic god.  Waqqa is much like what rice growers of the Dioloa community in West Africa call Emitai – a god associated with sky and giving rain. The Dogon in Mali and Burkina Faso have similar region worshipped among members of the ethnic group. 

As ethnic Oromos in the Waaqeffannaa faith and elders in the community say, thanksgiving is offered to Waaqa for ending the rainy season. The thanksgiving celebration, traditionally, features followers the faith making a ritual march to Lake Hora in Bishoftu throwing grass to the lake as an offer of thanks to Waqqa, throwing slaughtered rooster to the lake and buttering live trees. All ethnic Oromo parties feature a tree in their party flags and emblems. 

The traditional Irreecha celebration is now considered as a tool by Oromo political elites and the celebration itself is sounding much like a political event. 

Apart from weeks of preparations, the celebration is now turned it into a three-day event and taken to the capital Addis Ababa as well. In what seems to be an effort to make the traditional religion, not based on any one of the Abrahamic regions including Islam, cool, organizers seem to be attempting to inject economic and social value to the festival. On Friday, a large open-air festival was organized in Meskel Square where the acting president of Oromo regional state, Shilemes Abdissa made a controversial political speech. Earlier in the week, a fashion show was organized in the capital seemingly to glorify Ireecchaa too. 

The narratives from radical Oromo ethnic nationalists believe that this ethnic Oromo religious festival used to be celebrated in the capital Addis Ababa 150 years ago and they link the discontinuation of the celebration with the reign of Emperor Menelik in Ethiopia.

Shimeles Abdissa, Oromo region president, reportedly told the crowd that tricked down to Meskel Square from different Oromo region of Ethiopia that their struggle  broke the ankle of Neftegna ( and they tend to link it to ethnic Amhara, and somewhat to ethnic Tigray too) where the Nefetagna’s broke the ankle of ethnic Oromo in history. 

Based on simple maths, the claim does not seem to be true. 150 years back from now in the history of Ethiopia roughly coincides with the British invasion of Ethiopia under Sir Robert Napier’s expeditionary force and the end of the regin of Emperor Tewodros II when he committed suicide rather than surrendering to the British force to which is he lost the war. Emperor Menelik was a teenager at the time and not in power. Following three years of rule under Tekle Ghiorghis,  Emperor Yohannes IV, who is from Temben region of Tigray in Northern Ethiopia, ruled Ethiopia for nearly twenty years until his death in 1889. 

Radical ethnic Oromo Nationalists, although many of them seem to be followers of either Islam or Christianity, tend to think that the traditional Irreeccha religious festival could be polished in a way to be used as a tool to Oromoize Ethiopia by way of creating a core culture.

As part of the glorification of effort, eve (as in a new year tradition) put together by organizers in the capital Addis Ababa gave an excuse to the city administration (at the helm of which is believed to be a populist and subtle radical Oromo nationalist) to close major roads in the city – a matter that has angered thousands of people. 

On Sunday, the celebration will go back to  Bishoftu ( Debre Zeit) – Hora lake. In 2016, more than 50 people were killed in the same place as government forces used tear gas to suppress political protest staged during the celebration. 

Irreecha happens about three weeks after the Ethiopian New year and a week after the celebration of the discovery of the true cross, Meskel, a Christian religious holiday celebrated across the country and among many communities including in Oromo communities. This year, authorities in the city banned the celebration of Meskel festival in Bishoftu. They even detained Abune Gorgorios III for several hours.

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